Libya’s Dog Barks, the Caravan Passes

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 5:01 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

In an audio message carried by Syria’s al-Rai TV, Moammar Gadhafi addressed Libyans Thursday night threatening “a long fight” that would see their nation “engulfed in flames.” Libya’s fugitive leader vowed: “The Libyan people cannot kneel, cannot surrender. We are not women.”

The next day, my taxi rounded a city corner, and I suddenly found myself face to face with Libya’s real women.

A laughing, giggling parade of women and children was coming down a side street in the Medina. Like female pied pipers they drew more and more followers as families tumbled out of apartments and high walled compounds.

There were chic young girls in lipstick, designer sunglasses, and big smiles as they walked arm and arm. There were traditional grandmothers, taking excited grandchildren by the hand, and ululating as if they were back in the oasis.

Driving back to the Radisson Al Mahary hotel, my taxi driver patiently threaded his way around more and more knots of women and children gathering on street corners. They all were preparing to walk in the same direction.

From my 13th floor balcony in the Radisson, I saw the same phenomenon – times 100.

Ignoring threats of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's leader-in-hiding, thousands of cars inch down Tripoli's Corniche coastal highway to Family Night at Martyrs' Square. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Stretching down the Corniche, Tripoli’s ocean side boulevard, traffic was a long, thick red smear of tail lights – four lanes wide and kilometers long. After Friday afternoon prayers, everyone going to Martyrs’ Square.

Fighters were told to stop firing their guns in the air. It was family night on the square, down in the Medina.

Singing the nation’s new anthem, tens of thousands of women and children gathered around a block long banner in the red, green and black colors of Libya’s new rebel flag.

Bounded on one side by a massive, ancient wall of the Red Fortress, the square was created during the Italian colonial period. It was then called Piazza Italia. After Independence in 1951, it was called Independence Square. After Col. Gadhafi seized power, in 1969, he renamed it Green Square, after the color of his revolution.

From a high balcony in the fortress wall, he would give radical
speeches, often containing pronouncements that would echo around the world.

But Friday night, a banner in the colors of the rebel flag hung from that iconic balcony.

Block by block, neighborhood by neighbhorhood, Tripoli women and children turned out for Family Night on Martyrs' Square. Photo: James Brooke

The morning after, it would be common journalistic practice to report that Tripoli’s women and children turned out en mass in defiance of Moammar Gadhafi. The family night celebration took place only 24 hours after Gadhafi promised to drown the streets of Tripoli in blood.

But it would be more accurate to say that the women blew off “Brother Leader” as yesterday’s man, a blowhard out of touch with reality, sending blustering, poor quality audio tapes from a secret desert hiding place.

Libyan children may be too young to catch the finer points of their nation’s revolution. But for them, Friday night on the square was another chance to sing ditties that, to the untrained ear, sound like Arabic versions of the Munchkins singing: ‘Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is Dead.”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

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James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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